Data Collection for Mental Health Studies Through Digital Platforms: Requirements and Design of a Prototype

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Background: Mental and behavioral disorders are the main cause of disability worldwide. However, their diagnosis is challenging due to a lack of reliable biomarkers; current detection is based on structured clinical interviews which can be biased by the patient’s recall ability, affective state, changing in temporal frames, etc. While digital platforms have been introduced as a possible solution to this complex problem, there is little evidence on the extent of usability and usefulness of these platforms. Therefore, more studies where digital data is collected in larger scales are needed to collect scientific evidence on the capacities of these platforms. Most of the existing platforms for digital psychiatry studies are designed as monolithic systems for a certain type of study; publications from these studies focus on their results, rather than the design features of the data collection platform. Inevitably, more tools and platforms will emerge in the near future to fulfill the need for digital data collection for psychiatry. Currently little knowledge is available from existing digital platforms for future data collection platforms to build upon.

Objective: The objective of this work was to identify the most important features for designing a digital platform for data collection for mental health studies, and to demonstrate a prototype platform that we built based on these design features.

Methods: We worked closely in a multidisciplinary collaboration with psychiatrists, software developers, and data scientists and identified the key features which could guarantee short-term and long-term stability and usefulness of the platform from the designing stage to data collection and analysis of collected data.

Results: The key design features that we identified were flexibility of access control, flexibility of data sources, and first-order privacy protection. We also designed the prototype platform Non-Intrusive Individual Monitoring Architecture (Niima), where we implemented these key design features. We described why each of these features are important for digital data collection for psychiatry, gave examples of projects where Niima was used or is going to be used in the future, and demonstrated how incorporating these design principles opens new possibilities for studies.

Conclusions: The new methods of digital psychiatry are still immature and need further research. The design features we suggested are a first step to design platforms which can adapt to the upcoming requirements of digital psychiatry.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere110
Number of pages11
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • data collection framework
  • mental health
  • digital phenotyping
  • big data


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